Friday, December 27, 2013

The Haunted Dolls: an anthology selected by Seon Manley and Gogo Lewis

I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of haunted doll stories. Of course, I liked some of the stories more than others, but I only found one boring.

My favorites were The Dressmaker's Doll by Agatha Christie, that master of mystery, and The Doll's Ghost by F. Marion Crawford. In the first, a large doll seems to be changing locations in a dressmaker's shop without assistance from any humans, thoroughly disturbing those who work in the shop. It has a delightful ending I didn't see coming. In the second, the ghost of a doll visits the man who repaired her as he frets over his missing human child.

The delightful and poignant Steadfast Tin Soldier by Hans Christian Andersen is also included. Not all of the stories are genuinely creepy, but some of them are.

Scattered throughout the book are delightful drawings of little girls and their dolls. It is worth flipping through just for the art. A definite recommend for any fan of dolls, or anyone creeped out by them.  You can find it at the Galesburg Public Library in the fiction section under Manley, Sean.

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon is set in a Vermont town of "strange disappearances and old legends." Key to the plot is a mysterious structure known as the Devil's Hand. ("The Devil's Hand, people called it, the ledge of rock that stuck up out of the ground like a giant hand, fingers rising from the earth. Haunted land, people said. A place where monsters dwelled." p. 21)

I wanted to like this book more than I did. It is very readable, but I was put off by some plot points meant to confuse the issue that were never explained to my satisfaction. The text is nicely atmospheric and the mystery imaginative. There are some nice character touches; I particularly liked the character of a recent widow, Katherine, and her building of dioramas. The narrative goes back and forth between the early 1900s and the present day and includes chapters from a secret diary written in 1908 which is known to be missing key pages.

The Winter People reminded me a bit of The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (which I also wanted to like more than I did). If you like a strange tale with touches of folklore and other-worldly mystery, you might enjoy The Winter People.

I read an advance reading copy of The Winter People. It is scheduled to be published in February 2014.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Venetia by Georgette Heyer

Venetia is a delightful Georgette Heyer regency romance first published in 1958. Venetia is old (25) and unmarried. For reasons that become clear later in the book, she was kept out of society on her family's rural estate rather than going to London to come out. She is beautiful and intelligent and knows her own mind. She lives with her lame younger brother and manages the family estate while her older brother enjoys himself elsewhere. She has two local admirers, who she describes with mirth as "worthy" and "excessively romantic." She considers marrying one just because her options are limited, but she knows she cannot love him.

Although she is green, she is well read, and she does not consider herself a complete innocent. She is independent and headstrong, and on a walk unchaperoned to pick berries, she runs into the rake who owns the estate next to her family's. He is not even a reformed rake, but they quickly discover they have sympathetic minds and become good friends, to the horror of all who know her.

Lord Damerel has never seduced an innocent and never means to, which puts him in a quandry when he finds himself falling in love with Venetia. Like all good reformed or reforming rakes, he means to give her up for her own good.

Although a little draggy in the middle, the plot takes unexpected twists and arrives at a delightful conclusion. I recommend Venetia for any reader who likes an old-fashioned, gentle romance in the manner of Jane Austen.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley

The Lattimores work at being as “normal” a family as possible within the strictures of caring for a son with Xeroderma pigmentosum (XP), a rare genetic disorder that causes extreme sensitivity to ultraviolet light. Only 40% of individuals with XP survive beyond age 20. For Eve, this means doing everything possible to protect Tyler, whatever the consequences. She muses,

“How is a parent supposed to balance the needs of a healthy child against a fragile one? It can’t ever be equal—not the time, nor the resources, nor the hours lying awake in the dark consumed by tangled thoughts—but the love can be exactly the same. The love has always been split precisely down the middle, an effortless divide. Melissa knows this. She must know this.”

But like most fourteen-year-old boys, Tyler is increasingly resisting mom’s efforts to swaddle him, like most sixteen-year-olds, Melissa still needs her mother. Husband David works out-of-town and the physical distance is beginning to influence an emotional distance, and the neighbors in their quiet street, who each have their own secrets, are increasingly reluctant to abide by the requests of Eve to use special light bulbs in their outdoor fixtures, especially in the wake of a tragedy that puts everyone on edge. In raising a son whose day, of necessity, starts at sunset, Eve convinces herself that his life relies on her, so what is she to do when the consequences of her actions might remove her from him?

I found The Deepest Secret a quick read and I appreciated Buckley’s handling of the differing viewpoints in the dilemma facing all parents—loving and letting go. I read an uncorrected proof, so the encapsulating quote above may be changed by the time the book goes on sale on February 4, 2014.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns by Margaret Dilloway

Galilee Garner, the narrator of Margaret Dilloway’s novel The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns, is a complex individual. Named by her parents after a “hippie” trip to the Holy Land in the 1970s, she prefers to go by Gal.  She is a high school biology teacher in her mid-thirties who has suffered from kidney failure since she was a child. In her spare time, she breeds roses, hoping to create a new rose that will win prizes and be sold to the consumer market.

The book’s title is a little heavy handed; okay, we get it, Gal is as prickly as the thorny roses she breeds. But she is worth getting to know. I liked that the book’s narrator is herself somewhat unlikable. She felt more believable because of her difficult personality traits. She lives a rigid life – she has to, because of her kidney failure – which causes issues with her best friend and with the principal at her school.

Gal has a sister Becky. Becky has always been spacey, irresponsible, and a user of drugs and alcohol. She has been a neglectful mother to her one child, Riley, and soon after the book begins Riley arrives unannounced at Gal’s school. Becky’s job is sending her to Hong Kong for several months, so she has sent her daughter to live with Gal. Now, in addition to work, kidney dialysis, and rose breeding, Gal is thrust into the role of Riley’s guardian.

I enjoyed the relationship between Gal and Riley and found it quite believable. The information about undergoing kidney dialysis and breeding roses seemed well researched. Even Becky, who is unsympathetic in many ways, is well rounded as we come to understand how difficult it was for her growing up, competing for her parents’ attention with her sick sister Gal.

I thought a possible romance for Gal was superfluous but aside from that I found the plot interesting and credible. I wanted to know what happened next. I like a book without a neat, tidy ending, and this book’s ending was satisfactory without everything wrapping up perfectly for Gal.

If you are a gardener or someone who enjoys novels about interesting characters and family relationships, you might enjoy Margaret Dilloway’s The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns. The library's book clubs had excellent discussions about this book.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Death Comes to the Village by Catherine Lloyd.

Death Comes to the Village is a promising start to a new Regency mystery series. It took me a little while to become engaged by the two main characters, Robert and Lucy, but I liked them both very much by the end.

Major Robert Kurland has returned to his village home after being gravely injured at Waterloo. He is still recovering and unable to walk. Miss Lucy Harrington, eldest daughter of the rector, is frustrated by her role as the female head of household since her mother is dead, She is stuck looking after the other children and the household affairs and is taken for granted by her father, but she does enjoy her visits to check in on Major Kurland. Then a little mystery to solve engages them both.

I can't describe this book as a mystery-romance, but the groundwork was laid for a romance in future entries in the series. I figured out the "mystery" fairly early, but I enjoyed the character development, historical descriptions, and dialogue. This is a slow moving book to relax into, not a fast-paced adventure that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

As an ex-proofreader, I lament the lack of proofreading these days. I saw a number of confusing errors in this book. For example, at one point (p. 265) a character named Daisy says, "Daisy tried to break things off with him in a letter before he came back, but from all accounts, he didn't take it very well." It should say Mary instead of Daisy; this is an easy mistake for an author to make, but a good editorial review should have caught it.

I had just finished the most recent book in Anna Dean's Dido Kent series when I saw this on the library's shelf and grabbed it to read. It's not quite as good as the Dean series, but I was entertained by it and look forward to the next book in the series. I recommend it to lovers of gentle Regency mystery or romance.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Bill Bryson's One Summer: America, 1927

Bryson, Bill.  One Summer: America, 1927.  New York: Doubleday, 2013. 453 p.


            Bill Bryson’s One Summer is one of those rare popular histories that, with its rich, nostalgic vignettes, could single-handedly seduce readers into more in-depth studies.  In light, engaging prose, Bryson takes readers on a chronological journey through one of the most memorable summers in our nation’s history.  In 1927, Bryson reminds us, Americans boasted of an internationally-famous aviator (Charles Lindbergh), baseball players (Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig), tennis player (Bill Tilden), and boxer (Jack Dempsey).  The primacy of so many Yanks was important collectively as well, since “Americans in the 1920s had grown up in a world in which most of the most important things happened in Europe.”  However, in One Summer, the stories of the not-so famous, or not-so remembered, perhaps, make the tale especially engaging.  Richard Byrd’s feats of aviation, Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray’s murderous peccadillo, and the teenaged Philo Farnsworth’s development of that other national pastime – television – all make appearances, enriching the more familiar stories of flying and baseball that anchor the work. 

In retrospect, the summer of trans-Atlantic flights and home run battles seems a bright, quaint spot just before the fall, and Bryson does well to examine the questionable banking practices leading to the 1929 market crash.  But this was a summer, too, of obsessions: prohibition and killer “gin,” of Al Capone, Percy Fawcett’s ill-fated Amazonian search for the Lost City of Z, the nationwide promotion of eugenics, and anarchist bombings.  One Summer gives readers a glimpse of the macabre, dark side of the glittering 1920s, exploring complexities of the era with the readability of a best-selling novel.

One Summer provoked a fustian and aggrieved review by David Brinkley in the Washington Post’s pages, while David Shribman of the Boston Globe called into question Bryson’s characterization of Calvin Coolidge.  Brinkley’s poorly researched polemic leaves propriety and light at naught, calling into question both the temper and validity of his comments, while Shribman’s lone negative remark relies on a fairly recent and mostly unexamined reading of Coolidge’s legacy.  Other than these, however, the work has been well-received by the academy and armchair historians alike. 

Bryson’s aim in One Summer is to paint a picture of a singularly “extraordinary summer,” and with few exceptions, he succeeds.  The work moves handily from character to character, and though Bryson struggles to close these stories neatly in the epilogue, the larger challenge is contextualizing the fascinating stories and alternately lovable and despicable cast of seeming thousands.  For readers who wish to explore the copious primary and secondary sources cited, there is a 119-page online appendix of notes to the work, but one might wish too for a “recommended reading” section to round out the era.  Among a handful of scholarly monographs, Lynn Dumenil’s The Modern Temper: American Society and Culture in the 1920s serves well to help sate the hungry reader whose appetite is whetted here.  Even alone, One Summer should make its way onto the to-read list of anyone with a passing interest in the history and culture of the inter-war years.  Put on some Hammerstein, Kern, and Gershwin, pour yourself a French 75, and settle in for a fascinating romp through the summer of 1927.  -  Kristy Howell

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Don Tillman is a professor of genetics. He wants to find a wife. He also has Asperger's Syndrome or something like it and has trouble making friends, much less getting to a second date. He comes up with a Wife Project questionnaire to aid him in his search. Into his life comes Rosie, a woman who is seeking assistance in determining which of her mother's old classmates is her biological father. Rosie could not be further from Don's idea of the perfect mate, and you can guess what happens from there.

The Rosie Project is a clever and entertaining book. Although it's pretty clear how the romance is going to end, it still took some surprise turns and fully engaged me as a reader.

It was not a perfect book for me for a few reasons. At the beginning of the book, I didn't much like Don, Rosie, or Don's best friend, the philandering Gene. Eventually I got past this but it did slow down my enjoyment of the book in the early chapters.

The book is narrated by Don, and I was reminded of a criticism I read of The Big Bang Theory. The author complained that we are not laughing with the geeky nerds of the popular television show, but at them. I didn't agree with everything the author of that criticism said but thought some legitimate points were made, and they apply to The Rosie Project as well. There are many times when Don says or does something that we as readers are supposed to find funny that Don would not.

Also, in chapter eleven, Rosie convinces Don to leave a cafe without paying the bill. I believe we are supposed to see this as a sign of progress in Don, that he can stop being so rigid and such a rule follower now that he has met Rosie, but in my opinion anyone who leaves a cafe without paying the bill is just a jerk. In no way can that be considered a sign of growth, and on top of that Rosie is a part-time bartender and I did not buy that she'd be willing to stiff a waiter just because it was convenient. (There was no problem at the cafe or with the waiter.)

Still, I found it highly enjoyable and readable. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes The Big Bang Theory or quirky romance with a satisfying ending.

Simon's Cat v. the World by Simon Tofield

Simon's Cat is a well known figure on the internet. Simon Tofield has created a series of short animated videos of his cat doing cat things. As someone who knows and owns cats, I frequently find the videos hilarious.

Tofield has also published a few books featuring Simon's Cat. At the Galesburg Public Library, we have some ancient Garfield the Cat books that are still being checked out and I thought some Simon's Cat books might make good replacements.

This is a lovely book, containing beautiful color drawings with so much detail, and it is so clear that Simon Tofield also knows and owns cats. Each drawing stands alone, but all on the subject of the title: cat v. world.  Many kinds of adorable animals also make appearances. This book should appeal to almost any cat lover.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Place of Confinement by Anna Dean

Dido Kent is a spinster of 36 living in 1807 who has the unfeminine habits of thinking for herself, showing too much interest in unseemly matters like murder, and speaking her mind. She is dependent on her brothers for her living. However, she has had the good fortune of meeting and falling for a widower who, while sometimes frustrated with her, has fallen for her because of her personality rather than in spite of it. Their romance has moved slowly forward through the four books in this series. These are not books of great action, but rather character development and manners.

This is the fourth book and the best yet. This is a gentle series of romance and mystery. It is perfect for those who love Jane Austen. The romance is mostly of the meaningful glance and ardent touching of hands variety. The mystery is a set of little puzzles to be worked out.

I'm not sure how this book would come across to someone who hasn't read the first three books, but if the series intrigues a reader at all I recommend starting at the beginning anyway. I eagerly look forward to the next book in the series.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

the first phone call from heaven by Mitch Albom

I had never read one of Mitch Albom's books before and this one makes me want to read the rest.  This is a touching story about the people in a small town who start getting calls from heaven, or are they?  That is what Sully Harding want to find out.  This book is so good, it makes you think about your belief in heaven and it is a terrific story.  I highly recommend  this book.

Burning Sky by: Lori Benton

This book is great if you like historical romance and Christian romance.  We follow a woman who was kidnapped by Indians in her childhood back to he home town.  She must decide which path to take, the life her birth parents gave her or the life she grew to know with Indian tribe that kidnapped her.  Will she let her faith guide her?  This is a good book to get lost in and enjoy.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Drone by Mike Maden

The title alone should give up a hint about this book! This is a very fast paced book! It is full of suspense, a bit of humor, and a shadowing of issues of morality....

The book explores a new way to fight wars. It does this by pulling you into the lives of Troy Pearce, a brilliant, trained CIA operative and his company Pearce Systems. 

If you enjoy thrillers that explore the developing world of technology this is truly a roller coaster read!! It is 413 pages of "what next..nooo.... now what...." I greatly enjoyed reading this and look forward to more books by this author.It also left me thinking about how countries use technology to fight their battles.
Would this be a better way or maybe not?  I hope you read this book
it indirectly guides the reader to consider  issues of right and wrong.  

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker

I normally keep a book at work to read in the breakroom over lunch. Frequently this is a book that is okay but not that great, so I'm not tempted to take it home and read it more quickly. The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic was a breakroom book, but my reason for keeping it one was different. I enjoyed savoring it over a long period of time. Once I got into it I really enjoyed it.

It's not a perfect book. The first 80 pages or so are very slow moving, and I wondered how I'd ever make it through 560 pages. The author really sets us up to dislike the heroine Nora. She is enchanted by the Faitoren (the author's version of the Fae) and spends her time in a fog being pushed around by them. It got old, and I thought, well that would never happen to ME! I would never be captured and enchanted by fairies and married to a monster! It made it hard for me to relate to Nora.

However, once Nora escapes the book got very good. The characters kept me guessing. Nora's relationship with the other main character is complex. There is a disturbing fact from the wizard Arundiel's past that is true - it's not a falsehood or exaggeration that people tell Nora to caution her against the wizard. I really was not sure where the plot was going.

I've seen The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic compared to Discovery of Witches, but I enjoyed it so much more. Nora doesn't need a magical powerful man to fall in love with and hand her life over to. She is a strong independent woman who manages to forge relationships while hanging on to that independence and her own spirit.

I recommend this to any fans of adult fantasy - just keep going until Nora escapes. I found it totally worth it.


The end was a bit anti-climactic, but that's because we were set up for a sequel. I am very much looking forward to one!

Note: It took me a long time to get through it, but I read an advance reader copy.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

North of Boston by Elisabeth Elo

Dark....dark....dark  with a dim light at the end of the book.This was a fictional thriller. The basic setting was the Northeast of the U.S. . The main character was an oppositional young lady. This involved dysfunctional, wealthy families, environmental issues,and disturbed greedy people.
This book for me, was one of those reads that you needed a break from. When you were pretty sure it couldn't get did.
Despite all of this I still wanted to finish it.
If you like to be challenged this is one of those kind of books. It leaves you wondering.

Book of Ages by Jill Lepore

This is a book written around letters from Ben Franklin to his sister Jane Franklin.
I found it interesting to think about how he has brothers and sisters yet we really never think about that aspect of Ben's life.
However, this book was close to 300 pages. I think it could have been more fascinating if condensed to 150 pages. I had a difficult time getting through this and I enjoy historical non-fiction.
The enjoyment was much less then the effort to read this book.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I am normally reading several books at one time. At home, I usually have one book by my bedside to read before bed and one at the dining room table to read while eating. Originally The Ocean at the End of the Lane was my bedtime reading, but I found it so disturbing that I had to move it downstairs. This is about the highest praise I can give to a creepy book like The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Also, I got teary-eyed reading the acknowledgements. Neil Gaiman rocks.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches is the sixth book in the Flavia de Luce mystery series by Alan Bradley.

I am very fond of Flavia de Luce and look forward to each new adventure with her. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches was refreshing because it did not deal with Flavia finding a dead body – which, let’s face it, I’d be pretty suspicious if an 11-year-old kept ending up involved in solving a murder. Instead it deals with her mother’s return to Bishop’s Lacey. I enjoyed learning more about Flavia’s father and Dogger and seeing some growth in Flavia’s relationship with her sisters.

Bradley’s prose is a delight to read, even if some of the plot developments were a bit hard to swallow. There is a storyline involving Flavia’s intentions to raise the dead which is completely unbelievable. She is much too smart to believe that can be done, and if it’s her way of coping with loss, that’s not made apparent. There are some developments regarding Flavia’s role and importance in the world which are also pretty outlandish.

Still, it’s a fun read and my interest didn’t lag. The book ends with a development that will certainly bring a fresh spin to the next book in the series. Although I've enjoyed all the books, on the whole I think this one was more original than the last two.

I read an electronic galley of The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches from Netgalley. It is scheduled to be available in January 2014.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century

In 1954, two teenaged girls killed one of their mothers by beating her head in at Victoria Park near Christchurch, New Zealand. This horrific and inexplicable murder was made famous by the 1994 movie Heavenly Creatures, which established director Peter Jackson and launched the career of actress Kate Winslet. 

Juliet Hulme was originally from England and Pauline Parker was from New Zealand. They met as young teenagers and became the closest of friends, living in a fantasy world of their own. Each had health issues, and they bonded while sitting on the sidelines of physical education classes at school. They called each other by made-up names and dreamed of running away to Los Angeles. When Hulme’s parents split up and made plans to return to England, the girls were determined not to be parted. Somehow they convinced themselves that killing Pauline’s mother was the answer. They lured her to the park and used a brick in a stocking to bludgeon her to death.
Years later, after the girls were found guilty and sent to prison for short terms, it came to light that Anne Perry, author of two bestselling mystery series set in Victorian England, was in fact Juliet Hulme. As a longtime fan of Perry, this fascinated me, so when Peter Graham’s book Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century was published, I knew I had to read it. 
Author Graham lives in New Zealand and was a barrister before becoming a crime writer. Since so much time has passed since the crime and many of the key people have died, Graham has to fill in some of the details with guesswork and speculation. It’s important to keep that mind when reading the book. 
 Like most works of “true crime,” this book is told in a sensational manner. Early on, Graham refers to Pauline’s “mongoloid” sister and I thought, can he really not know that’s not the correct term? Indeed he does know, as he talks about Down’s Syndrome in a later chapter; the earlier reference was no doubt meant to be provocative and to help set the scene as things were in 1954.
 I was riveted to this book, as indeed I was to the excellent Heavenly Creatures.  There is still no good explanation for why the two girls picked out Pauline’s mother to attack. They had four parents after all, plus the lover of Juliet’s mother. Although both girls kept diaries, Mrs. Hulme managed to destroy Juliet’s before she was arrested. Pauline’s, however, was used to provide evidence at the trial, and passages in it are quite chilling. It’s also a fascinating look into a teenaged mind.
Graham speculates over why the girls committed the crime, but no one knows for sure. Anne Perry and Pauline Parker (now known as Hilary Nathan) aren’t talking, if they even know themselves.  For me, the lack of proof of a good solid motive does not detract from the story. In addition, I visited New Zealand a few years ago and the references to places I visited were of special interest to me.
If you are a fan of true crime, of Anne Perry, or of the human mind and what it is capable of, I recommend Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Dare You To by Katie McGarry

Submitted by Sharon, teen reviewer:

Beth Risk is the girl no one takes seriously, especially given her past. With her home life quickly falling apart, her uncle Scott Risk, a major league baseball player, moves her in with his family in Groveton. Surprised that she is making a life in Groveton that she likes, Beth tries to make herself believe that she doesn't deserve or want it. Through all the struggles, she falls for Ryan Stone, the one she told herself she'd never get involved with more than she has to.

Ryan Stone's family is one of the families that have a big influence in the town. Ryan and his friends are part of their high school's baseball team... and they love dares. When one dare makes Ryan's life change, he finds himself trying for things he never thought he wanted, including Beth Risk.

Dare You To by Katie McGarry is a very good book that has some very real-life teen problems in it. Surprisingly, my favorite characters are supporting, Scott and Lacy.  I like how even when he ran from his life before, Scott still looked for Beth and kept his promise to her. Lacy doesn't care about what people say about Beth and she doesn't mind about Beth not talking about her past; she still makes it a point to try to rekindle the friendship they used to have.

Dare You To is available now.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Violets of March by Sarah Jio

This week the library’s Tuesday and Thursday book discussion groups will discuss The Violets of March by Sarah Jio. The main character, Emily, had a best-selling novel eight years ago but is now struggling to write. Her husband Joel, who literally appeared in GQ once as a most eligible “regular guy bachelor,” has left her for another woman. She lives in New York but regularly spent time as a child at the home of her Aunt Bee on Bainbridge Island off the coast of Washington State.

Emily heads to Bainbridge once again to recover from her divorce, find solace, and be healed, planning to stay there the entire month of March (this is important because of the book’s title). She hasn’t cried over her divorce, and her best friend hopes she will by the time the visit ends.

We meet a lot of characters on Bainbridge, mostly of her aunt’s generation and in their eighties. We do meet two potential love interests for Emily, Greg, an old boyfriend, and Jack, who her aunt dislikes and who seems to have a mysterious connection to Emily’s own family.

From the beginning of her visit, Emily starts to feel there is a “big secret” no one wants to share with her. She stays in a bedroom she has never slept in before, and in the drawer of the bedside table she finds an old diary with a red velvet cover. She can’t resist reading it, written in 1943, and more characters are introduced through the diary. Is it a diary, or a start of a novel? Emily isn’t sure.

I did get a nice feel for Bainbridge Island, and the author does a good job of describing the peaceful feeling that can come from hearing the sea. This is basically a romance with a touch of history and mystery; if you enjoy books of that sort, you might enjoy The Violets of March.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Wild Cards by Simone Elkeles

Submitted by Sharon, teen reviewer:

Derek Fitzpatrick, on the outside, is an all-around "bad boy," and trying to make himself believe it. While trying to keep a facade of not caring about anything, he's pulled into a life that he doesn't want with his stepmother as she moves them to Chicago. All he wanted was to forget the past and not look for anything to tie him down to one place. Can he go for what he wants when he meets Ashtyn?

Ashtyn Parker is the kicker of her high school football team, and the only girl. After getting voted Captain for her senior year, her team's quarterback goes MIA for a few days. When she meets Derek, the one guy she shouldn't want, things change. The only way to let things figure themselves out is if she can let herself trust Derek. Can she put her heart and her team all on the line?

I think Simone Elkeles, once again, nailed another brilliant series. I love how she seems like she's going to do one thing with the story and twists it with a compelling complication. My favorite thing about this book is how much creativity and personality she put into the characters. My favorite characters are Derek and his grandmother. I just find that I can relate to them.

Hild by Nicola Griffith

Hild is based on life in the 7th century. The setting is Britain. The author immediately puts you  into this world. The issue is the language, or terms used. I found myself starting to focus on the language instead of the story plot.
Once you work through the language the characters become interesting. There are many characters which is to be expected it is a book containing 536 pages.
This is a book for those readers who like historical fiction. It puts the reader into this violent time of plots, double plots, and a young girl trying to find her place in this world.
I found it challenging at times, but I am glad that I read it.   

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas

Sherry Thomas, author of The Burning Sky (first book in the Elemental Trilogy), is not the next J.K. Rowling. Of course, there IS no next J.K. Rowling, but that doesn’t stop publishers from comparing new authors to her.

The most recent author to be compared to Rowling ad nauseum is Samantha Shannon, author of The Bone Season. I bring this up because if I WERE to compare a new YA author to Rowling, it would be Sherry Thomas, not Samantha Shannon. I am a public librarian, and if a Harry Potter fan asked me for a new book they might like, I’d recommend The Burning Sky (and not The Bone Season). Like the Harry Potter series and unlike The Bone Season, it has moments of true warmth and levity.

The Burning Sky is similar to the world of Harry Potter in many ways. Attendance at a boarding school, check, although in this case it is a decidedly unmagical Eton College. Spells based on latin, check. Prophecies and seers, check.

But the author paints her own magical world in The Burning Sky. The magical domain and the nonmagical realm co-exist. The greatest elemental mage of a generation has been prophesied. This person, able to manipulate earth, air, water and fire, will face the Bane, the powerful mage and tyrant of Atlantis. Prince Titus, the teenaged figurehead Master of the Domain, has known since a young age that he is destined to assist the mage and die in the process.

Then, through a careless bit of magic, Iolanthe Seabourne reveals herself to be the prophesied elemental mage. Atlantis and the Bane want to use her. Prince Titus does too – he wants to use her to bring down Atlantis and the Bane.  The Prince gets to her first, and puts into action a plan he has worked on for almost his whole life.

Iolanthe and Titus have a distrustful but dependent relationship. Iolanthe, disguised as a boy, attends Eton with the young Prince, and there are moments of joy and humor in their day-to-day interactions with fellow students. One plot device I enjoyed was the Crucible, a magical training tool that Titus and Iolanthe virtually disappear into to prepare for the challenges that await them.

I won’t reveal anymore, but The Burning Sky is a fun, suspenseful, and yes, magical read. I definitely recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Harry Potter or similar series.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Second Suns by David Oloiver Relin

Think about being only able to see shadows. Not even bright sun can make the shadows clear.
Now imagine yourself living in the Himalayan Mountains, using that "sight" to walk along narrow ledges daily just to get water.

This book is about two Doctors who decided to end preventable blindness starting in Nepal and moving out into African, and South east Asian countries. It shows that the world can be changed with dedication and much hard work.

I enjoyed reading this! It left me thinking what am I doing to make my world a better place? 

Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block

Submitted by Stephen, teen reviewer:

Penelope, or “Pen,” is a 17-year-old heroine who has lost everything important in her life, including her family and her home in the devastating earthquake and tsunami. The only thing she has left is her favorite book The Odyssey. And like the Odysseus in the epic poem, Pen has to go out on epic journey in search for a home. During her journey she has to face her greatest fears and her strongest loves. Francesca Lia Block makes this beautiful tale come alive with her fantastic writing style, as she takes across the post-apocalyptic wasteland of what is left of Los Angeles through the eyes of the brave young Penelope. While the plot may not be entirely realistic, it does make for a compulsive reading. The book is a page turner and will have you enthralled with the dystopian world the author has written for you. The author has a special style of writing all her own. Her writing has an almost dream-like feel and while it is far from realism it still grabs you and takes hold through the pages. This is a great book for anyone looking for an epic adventure or any fans of The Odyssey.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Longbourn by Jo Baker

In this 200th anniversary year of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a new book by Jo Baker called Longbourn is getting a lot of attention. Longbourn is the Bennet family estate, home to Elizabeth, the future Mrs. Darcy.

Longbourn takes place at the same time as the events of Pride & Prejudice, only the focus is on the Bennet family servants. Mrs. Hill is the housekeeper, Mr. Hill the butler, and Sarah and Polly the two maids. The point is made that Polly is really named Mary, but since there is a Bennet daughter named Mary, the maid must be called by another name. The book stresses how different life is for the servants than it is for the family. In Pride & Prejudice, we are made keenly aware that the Bennets do not have a lot of extra money to maintain their estate, but in Longbourn we see how much more work this means for the family servants.
Elizabeth’s youthful high spirits and hardiness are demonstrated by her walk to Netherfield from Longbourn without any regard for her petticoats; in Longbourn we understand the extra work those high spirits cause for the maids who must clean the petticoats. The author does not hold back regarding any of the unpleasant tasks of the day, whether emptying chamber pots or washing the “monthly napkins.”
Longbourn does not read like a Jane Austen novel, although the details about dress and manners are there. It reads like a modern novel written about that time period, rather than a book written at that time. Things happen and are described that would never be present in an Austen novel. I found Longbourn very slow starting; it did not really catch my attention until well into the book. I kept at it because the book is getting so much buzz and because of my affection for Pride & Prejudice.
In addition to the many historical details about what it was like to be a servant during the time of Pride & Prejudice, the plot revolves around Sarah, the housemaid. She is interested in Ptolemy, a footman for the Bingleys, but also shares a high level of awareness with the Bennet family’s mysterious new manservant James.  Towards the end, there is a plot development that I found highly unbelievable, which undermined my investment in the book.
I understand a movie is already in the works, and I think Longbourn could be a terrific movie, condensed and focused on the most interesting parts. It’s not a bad book, but in the end, my favorite parts were the times we got to see glimpses of the beloved characters from Pride & Prejudice. I might have enjoyed rereading P&P a lot more. Still, many Jane Austen fans will enjoy reading Longbourn.
I read an advanced reader copy of Longbourn. It is scheduled to be published in October 2013.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Alex & Me by Irene Pepperberg

I have an African Grey Parrot, so I'm a little biased toward liking Alex & Me. This is my second time reading it, as I chose it a discussion title for the library's book clubs. I have also read and enjoyed Dr. Irene Pepperberg's more scientific book The Alex Studies.

Alex & Me tells the story of Dr. Pepperberg's personal relationship with an African Grey Parrot named Alex (for Avian Language Experiment). She bought him from a pet shop and spent 30 years working with him, disproving assumptions about animal intelligence and behavior.

I am fascinated by Alex and how he changed the way humans view animal intelligence and learning. It's very sad that he died so young (for a parrot), and also that Pepperberg has to constantly scramble for funds to continue her work. This book is filled with sweet, funny, and astounding anecdotes about Alex that don't "prove" anything scientifically but are nonetheless fascinating and thought provoking.

As the owner of an African Grey Parrot, a couple of things she said surprised me. On page 63, she writes “It turned out that beginning training with ‘paper’ was an extremely bad choice, because it is very hard to make a ‘puh’ sound if you don’t have lips.” My parrot Ascar’s favorite word is “popcorn” and he also says “pretty” and parrot”. I don't know how he does it, but evidently the p sound was harder for Alex.

On page 156, she talks about taking Alex home, where he saw an owl and became terrified. My parrot once sat about five feet from a Cooper’s Hawk on a fence in our backyard and he couldn’t have been less interested, although they made eye contact.

In any event, if you are interested in parrots or bird or other animal intelligence, I recommend both Alex & Me and The Alex Studies.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Maid's Version by Daniel Woodrell

I always read Daniel Woodrell’s books with a good deal of interest, since my grandmother was from the Missouri Ozark area, and visiting her was a yearly event of my childhood.  This slim book was of particular interest, since it was based on a very specific historical incident, the tragic dance hall fire that occurred in 1928 in West Plains, Mo. (West Table in the book).   What (or who) caused the fire is still unclear.  Woodrell doesn’t care.  He takes this straw of confusion and spins, if not gold, at least silver in his wholly fictional rendering of the event. 

The narrator is the grandson of the maid of all work of the title, and the story moves between her version of what happened and the intersecting lives of other town folk who died in or were otherwise affected by the fire. Her backstory is the real event of the book.  The characters are fully realized and for the most part realistic, although Woodrell is never above a certain amount of novelistic exaggeration when it comes to characters.  And yes, Woodrell presents us with a fictional perpetrator, so no annoying unsolved ending.

As always, his writing is top-notch, but, oddly, in spite of being based on an actual event, this story is not as gripping and realistic as his excellent Winter’s Bone.  Nevertheless, it’s definitely worth the couple of evenings that you will spend reading it!  Recommended.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Blood of Tyrants by Naomi Novik (Temeraire book 8)

I am a huge fan of the Temeraire series and am sad to see it ending. Blood of Tyrants is the second to last book, and it is neither among the best nor the worst titles in the series. I enjoyed it a great deal and had trouble putting it down but also wanted to savor every chapter.

That said, it is not without flaws. The book opens with Temeraire’s captain, William Laurence, washed up on a beach with amnesia. Amnesia is a tired and rarely believable plot twist and I was surprised to see Novik resort to it. Temeraire’s fear and anxiety over the missing Laurence does not seem as heartfelt as in previous books. The scenes in which Laurence was alone were a bit draggy for me, and his continued shock and dismay as facts about his recent life were revealed were a bit tiresome.

The relationships between the dragons and their captains are my favorite thing about this series, and there wasn’t as much of that as I would have liked (there never is). My favorite pair are Maximus and Berkley (I named my house after Maximus), and while we got a bit of Maximus there wasn’t enough Berkley. I most enjoy the interplay between the members of Temeraire’s cohort, and at least they were all present and active for a significant portion of the book. My other favorite dragon is Perscitia, who sadly did not make an appearance.

I enjoyed learning about new dragons, and the condition of the Russian dragons was an unexpected twist. I quite enjoyed meeting the American dragon John Wampanoag. For some readers, the battles are probably the highlights of these books rather than the relationships, but to me the battles are the parts I hurry through. I am not a scholar of the Napoleonic era and sometimes feel lost in the details. I love the old-fashioned language that Novik uses and the manners her characters display. (“‘Ma’am, I am honored by your condescension,’ Laurence said, bowing” and “it is too much to be borne!” from Temeraire.)

In summary, while this is not one of the best titles in the series, it is still a must for Temeraire fans, and I still highly recommend the series as a whole. I eagerly await the final book.

(I read an electronic galley of Blood of Tyrants, but the book is available now.)